So you may have realized that I have a slight obsession with Henry Clay. As an architect of the Missouri Compromise, he hoped to settle the issue of slavery in the Louisiana Territory after Missouri nearly disrupted the delicate balance of 11 free and 11 slave states. When I teach this lesson, I have the students leave their seats and we have our own version of the 3630’ line in the class.
Background: Students come in having watched my video on the Missouri Compromise.
To start: There were 22 states in the Union prior to this delicate compromise. This year I happened to have 22 students in 1 of my classes. Each student was given an index card with one of the 22 states, and they had to move to one side of the room – one side for free states, the other side for slave states. If you do not have 22 students, you could give two or more states to a student – just as long as they are both slave or both free. The idea is that students see the even distribution of slave and free states.
Next, I (or another student if you have more than 22) move to the slave side of the room. We then have a discussion about the implications of one side having an advantage: What does this mean for representation in the Senate? What impacts could this have on laws regarding slavery?
After this discussion, we will introduce another student to be Maine and move to the free side of the room. Again, another discussion will ensue: How does this now impact the Senate? Why would Massachusetts (a free state) willingly cede land to form another free state?
In the middle of my room, I already placed masking tape on the ground labeled 3630’. We will discuss new states that enter the Union and note whether they go above or below the line.
At the end of this, we will read a letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Randolph illustrating his thoughts on the Missouri Compromise. As a class, we will HIPP the document and discuss the extent to which Jefferson’s vision is correct.
Finally, I give them 3 multiple-choice questions based on the excerpt as an assessment for the day.
Students really seem to remember this activity and gain a better understanding of the Missouri Compromise.
Below is the Jefferson excerpt and the multiple-choice questions I use:
[T]his momentous question, like a firebell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it, at once as the [death] knell of the Union. It is hushed, indeed, for the moment. But this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.
— Source: Thomas Jefferson to John Randolph, April 22, 1820
1. This excerpt was most likely written in response to:
a. Supreme Court decisions, such as McCulloch v. Maryland that asserted federal power over state laws
b. Impacts of the Second Great Awakening, including the promotion of religious and secular reforms
c. The American System which attempted to create a national economy
d. The Missouri Compromise
2. Which of the following would best support Jefferson’s argument in the excerpt?
a. Support for women’s rights, such as the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848
b. Conflicts over slavery in territories, such as the Compromise of 1850
c. The emergence of the Nativist Movement in the mid-19th century
d. Debates over US expansion overseas, particularly Asia in the late 19th century
3. Which of the following most directly exacerbated the concerns of individuals that would agree with Jefferson’s position?
a. Manifest Destiny
b. The ratification of the 15th amendment
c. The emergence of the Market Revolution
d. Increased immigration from Europe, particularly Germany and Ireland